Reflections on a Not So Happy Holiday Season

Now that we are well into the new year and have transitioned out of the holiday season, I keep thinking about this past December.  As school started back up and we all got back into our routines, the question kept popping up in conversations: “Did you have a good Christmas?”  Our answer was a pretty straight-forward (and some what Grinch-y sounding), “Not really.  It was kind of terrible!”

I’ve shared some posts in the past about my mother-in-law’s battle with Alzheimer’s.  She was living in a care facility for over 6 years and early in December, Hospice came in and informed the family that her health was failing.  So, from that point on, through most of the month, my wife visited with her mom almost every day.  Her brothers who live out-of-state came in for a few days and had an opportunity to spend time with her, with each other and to make plans for her services.  Hospice was keeping her comfortable and a Critical Care Nurse was in the room around the clock.  Nana made it through one more Christmas, but then passed away on December 27.  Her visitation took place on the 29th and she was laid to rest on the 30th.

In the midst of all that, our youngest (six month old) was sick for a few days and we had guys in and out of house repairing the floor in our laundry room, installing a new furnace and putting in new flooring throughout our first floor.

So, all those things kind of took the fun out of the holidays for us this year.  We still enjoyed celebrating Christmas with family who came in and with the extended family we have gained through adoption.  But, we didn’t get to do some of the holiday things we had planned.  The Christmas tree didn’t get put up til about one week before Christmas and our annual New Years Eve celebration with friends didn’t happen.

You probably know the feeling – you approach a certain season of the year (holidays, vacation, a significant celebration, etc.) and have an idea of how you want things to go.  You picture them in your mind and then the reality doesn’t match up with what you were thinking.  That was kind of Christmas for us.

As I look back at it, there a few things I personally took away from our not so happy holiday season.

The Power of Hope.  While we knew that my mother-in-law’s days on this earth were coming to an end, we also knew this wasn’t the end.  Because of her faith in Jesus, we have something to which we can look forward.  That message really came out at her funeral and it was a great reminder of the hope we can have in Jesus.

I loved this quote from Louie Giglio I was able to share at the funeral:  “Perhaps the greatest tragedy of all is to live as if this world is all there is, when God’s promise is for so much more. So make the most of every moment while you’re here. If you see something wrong, seek to fix it, but as you do, know that Jesus is preparing something brand new (and exponentially better) for those who have put their hope in Him. Live like you are headed to forever. Endure like you believe this world will fade, but Jesus will remain.”

Phyllis lived like this world will fade, but Jesus will remain.

The Strength of Family and Friends.  I was able to watch my wife sit and talk with her two brothers and her dad.  I listened as they shared memories about their mom and laugh and cry together.  I saw them hug each other and just support each other through a time of saying goodbye.

I also saw the stream of people who came to the visitation, who attended the funeral, who sent cards, who sent texts, who left Facebook messages, who prepared meals and who called just to check in.

You know in your mind that those relationships are important and needed, but you really come to understand it on a deeper level when you are the recipient of that love and care and concern.

The Beauty and Brevity of Life.  My mother-in-law lived to be almost 80 years old.  Many people would consider that old or a full-life.  I really only knew her in the last season of her life when she became my mother-in-law in 2010.  But hearing and reading stories about her, I came to appreciate how she enjoyed life.  Life is beautiful for sure.

There were a few times as we sat in her room that I was feeding our six month old son.  There, in the same room sitting about 10 feet apart, were two of my family who were at opposite ends of the spectrum of life.  One was just beginning his life; the other was nearing the end of hers.

I thought about all the life she experienced as a daughter, a sister, a student, a wife, a mom, a nurse, a friend.  I thought about what was still in store for our son and all that he had yet to experience, to learn, to discover, to know.

Life is both beautiful and brief.

The Comfort in Memories.  I shared at the funeral that I learned a lot about my mother-in-law through the memories of my wife.  As we went through this season, my wife would share things her mom liked, recipes she would make, things she liked to do, places she liked to go, food she liked to eat, music she liked to hear and so much more.

While I’m sad my wife doesn’t have her mother present with her anymore, I’m grateful she has those memories.

So, it wasn’t a very happy holiday season for us, but there were some good things about it.  In the midst of sadness, we received comfort. Even while shedding tears, I heard the joy of laughter.

While it’s not a season we want to repeat, we know that the hope we have makes all the difference.

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Ready for “The Talk?” @DaytonMomsBlog

My wife is back on Dayton Moms Blog writing about having “the talk” with your kids. Are your kids reaching the age where you need to start having these conversations? This article will help.

My wife is a good one to write about this subject because she talks freely about the subject. She teaches abstinence classes for our local women’s pregnancy center and is always open to answer any questions that students throw at her.

Take a few minutes to read the post for your own benefit as a parent or share it with someone who has children that may need some encouragement to approach this subject.

As she says in the post, “You can handle it, you can do this.”

Christmas Devos For Teens // 5 Days // Free!

During this Christmas season, I’ve been receiving a number of emails with free resources.  This week Youth Ministry 360 made a five day Christmas devotion for teens available . . . for free!

Students can start them anytime this month.  The purpose of these devotions is to help students identify characteristics displayed by characters in the Christmas narrative, and challenge them to apply these in their lives.

Take advantage of this free resource  to prepare for Christmas.  Explore themes like surrender, thankfulness and trust.  A simple tool to use this season.

Click on this link to view or print the devotions:

ym360_christmas_devotions_teenagers

A Must Read: A Letter to My Step-Daughter @DaytonMomsBlog

I’m a little late in sharing this (it was published last Friday), but it is still worth a read. My wife has another post on the Dayton Moms Blog and it gives a little peek into our journey of being a blended family.

Before we added to our family through adoption, we took on the challenge of blending a family of three boys and one girl spaced out from elementary school through a new high school graduate. Like most families, this was new territory for us and we faced a few challenges. Cheryl writes about that in her post.

I joked with her that her post makes me sound smarter than I really am, but I loved her honesty in this particular paragraph:

He told me to be patient and that was so hard. I wanted an instant family, I wanted you to just fit right into our family with my kids, and that was so selfish of me. Being patient was hard, but oh the wonderful things I was able to see and observe in that time. I watched you grow and mature from a distance.

Take a few minutes to read the letter on the Dayton Moms Blog.  Hopefully it will be an encouragement to you or allow you to encourage someone else facing a similar journey.

Want Better SAT Scores? // Try Family Meals

All parents want their children to do well in school. When it comes to moving onto higher education, high school students have to take the ACT or SAT. Some students take the test more than once to try to raise their score. Others do practice tests online or attend classes designed to prepare them for success on the test. I received an email today that pointed to another key to success on the test: Family Dinners.

Tim Elmore of Growing Leaders referenced a couple of studies which show the impact of families having regular meals together. At one point in the post Elmore wrote this: “Students who enjoyed talking over a meal with family members also enjoyed rising scores on standardized tests.”

I did some quick googling about family meals and while there are other factors at work, the general consensus from research is that there is benefit from families that have regular meal times together.

While studying for tests is a plus and there is value in taking prep courses, there is also merit to regular family meals. A study from Cornell University said, “Most studies have found that medium and high levels (i.e., 3 or more days per week) of frequent meals yield the most positive benefits for children.”

The Cornell study concluded with three suggestions:

1. Set a goal to have regular family meals at least three times per week, if possible.

2. Remember the benefits of consistent family mealtimes

3. Don’t forget, quality of family meals is just as important as quantity.

The research on family meals shows that regular family meals impact relationships within the family, increase academic achievement, help with overall health and nutrition among other things. Take some time during the week to sit together with your family and share a meal. While juggling busy schedules can be a challenge, regular meal times show a lot of benefit.

Support our Mexico Spring Break Trip // Buy a Shirt

Over Spring Break this school year (March 26-30, 2018) we will be taking a group to Rocky Point, Mexico, to build a house with 1MISSION. 1MISSION is a community development organization giving people living in poverty the opportunity to earn a house by serving their community. Individuals serve over 200 hours in their community to earn a home. We took a group over Spring Break in 2016 and look forward to returning in ’18.

The current projected cost for each individual to go on the trip is just over $1,000.  To help underwrite some of the expenses for our group, we are making available shirts designed just for this project.

We have two different shirt designs you can view by clicking here.

One is a Short Sleeve shirt and the color is heather clay.  The cost of the short sleeve shirt is $15

Please note:  the short sleeve shirts are “Soft Shirts.” They are a tad less generous of a fit than a normal t-shirt. They’re a nicer, softer t-shirt… but if you are between two sizes it is suggested you choose the larger size.

Long Sleeve shirt and the color is charcoal black. The cost of the long sleeve shirt is $20.

Both shirts have the same design on the front, which says BUILD HOPE, 1MISSION Mexico 2018

If we sell 25 of each shirt, $6 from each shirt (40%) will go toward our trip to Mexico.  Orders will be taken through the month of December. Shirts will be available mid-January.

If you are a member/attendee of our church in Wilmington or live in the area, we will have hard copies of order forms available at our IMPACT Student Kiosk in our KidCity Lobby.

We do have an online order form where you can place orders for shirts.  We currently do not have a way to pay online.  Payment can be made by cash or check (checks can be made payable to “Ministers Fund.”)

If you live outside of Wilmington, contact me and we can see about shipping a shirt to you.  We will add a few bucks on for shipping.

Shirts were designed by Fund the Nations, a company created in February of 2008 with the desire to help others fulfill the Great Commission (take the Gospel around the world) by providing them with a great fundraiser.  Check out their Instagram account for samples of their other designs.

We are looking forward to our trip to Mexico and serving with a family.  Your purchase of a shirt will help support our adventure!

What the Kingdom of God Looks Like

For the past few weeks, even months, I find myself being brought back to the Kingdom of God. Through things I hear or read or watch, the phrase keeps popping up.

I think before when someone said the words “the kingdom of God,” it conjured images of pearly gates and streets of gold and the reality of what things will be like after this life is over.

However, I see and hear a lot more discussion about living in the kingdom now, living as a citizen of the kingdom in the present and seeing God’s kingdom as both something that is to come and something that is.  Our students have been a part of events that encourage them to be “kingdom workers.”

Just this week I received a link to a blog post on YouthMinistry.com that talked about what the Kingdom of God looks like when life hurts. The entire article is good, but I like how the authors described the kingdom today.

The Kingdom of God is like . . .

  • The middle schooler who makes space for a not-so-cool classmate at her lunch table because she remembers the day when Jesus made space for her in his Kingdom.
  • A high schooler who opts out of the “party of the year” because he trusts that Jesus’ plans for his life are better than his friends’ plans.
  • One college student who risks getting a lower grade for sharing her worldview in her coursework.
  • The young couple who has little money but gives each other small Christmas gifts so they can give presents to children in the foster-care system.
  • Divorced parents who choose to co-parent their teenagers from a place of grace and forgiveness because they’ve experienced grace and forgiveness from Jesus.
  • A retired couple who finds joy in serving Jesus daily because they understand that no one ever “retires” from following him.

Some good thoughts for us to think about what it looks like to live as a citizen of the kingdom.  Maybe it looks like something from the list above. Maybe it’s totally different. How do we live as citizens of the kingdom now?